This is my second post in the series “Musical instruments” (see the first post on the Baskeet bamboo trumpets here). There are many different types of flutes played in Baskeet, either solo, in a group of five, or in a group of six; some of the flutes have only an embouchure hole, others are with additional tone holes. All flutes (except the smallest type) are made from bamboo.
The smallest Baskeet flute type, called biilim or bilbila, is usually produced from a calabash (1):
The little flutes are made and played by boys and young men, either when herding cattle or in their free-time. The biilim is not considered a “proper” instrument. (2) The melodies that are played on the biilim or the poems that the biilim accompanies are not categorised as “songs” (yetts) by the Baskeet but as “games” (kaassi).
The flutes are made from the necks (or as the Baskeet say, from the “mouths”) of calabashes. Here’s a fruit-bearing calabash plant (note, however, that the “short-necked” calabash species on the photo is probably not suitable for the production of biilim-flutes):
The upper end of a long-necked calabash is cut off, hollowed out, two holes (an embouchure hole and one tone hole) are drilled into it and the open end is plugged with gum gained from the enset plant. A second tone hole is left in this gum:
Alternatively (but much less commonly), the biilim can be produced from a piece of bamboo. Here you see the instrument of the Baskeet musician Wondu Soddo, a well-known Baskeet lyre and flute player:
Have a look at the following short sound files to get an impression of how the flute sounds. This is an excerpt of a song played on a bamboo-biilim, and this is an excerpt of song played on a calabash-biilim (I owe the recordings to Ayyele Kamaado and Wondu Soddo, respectively). The players blows across and into the embouchure hole and use the index finger of the right hand and the thumb of the left hand to open and close the tone holes.
The instrumental sections of the biilim songs (from which the excerpts were taken) alternate with sections in which the musicians recite poems about their cattle. These poems will be analysed in my scientific publications.
I’d be happy to hear whether calabash flutes are also played elsewhere in Ethiopia.
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